Dental procedures explained… (Not quite sure what your dentist meant? Here it is explained in “layman’s terms”)

Root Canal

What is root canal treatment? Why do I need root canal?

We have covered how or why teeth fall out or have to be removed… So you may be thinking, but then where does root canal treatment fit in, but more so, what is root canal treatment?

Root Canal treatment or root canal therapy is the removing of the infected pulp from your tooth (from the root canal of your tooth) and is actually called endodontic treatment. According to Colgate Oral and Dental Health Resource Centre root canal treatment saves approximately 24 million teeth every year.

Simply put, one would require root canal treatment to try save your tooth if the root pulp is infected or damaged yet the root it still strong and stable and able to support a dental restoration.

So why would you require root canal?

1) As previously mentioned, when plaque and tartar build up on your teeth – bacteria breeds – cavities are created – this decay destroys the hard layer of enamel on your tooth – and then your Dentin. Bacteria then has access to your root canal and infects the pulp which causes inflammation. This inflammation can reduce the blood flow to the tooth which also inhibits healing.

2) There are other reasons you may require root canal treatment – this being due to damage to the pulp that cant be fixed – this can happen from a fracture in the tooth, mouth trauma – a physical knock to the tooth. Sometimes common dental procedures can damage the pulp, for example if a tooth is cut too close to the pulp whilst prepping for a dental crown – the tooth may then need root canal. Similarly, multiple dental fillings/ceramic restorations on the same tooth can also cause damage to the pulp.

Root canal treatment in lay-mans terms…

The dentist, in most circumstances, will give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area.  (In some circumstances it is not necessary due to the fact that the nerve is completely dead) He will also place a rubber dam around the tooth that is being treated to stop bacteria and saliva getting into the root canal.   He will then drill through the crown to make an opening through which he is able to access the damaged or infected pulp.  Special dental instruments are then used to clean the infected pulp and tissue out the root canals, and also to shape the canals for the filling material.  Once this is done, the root canal is filled with a biocompatible material – most common –  gutta-percha.  Once your tooth has been filled, a temporary dental filling will be placed over the hole until the tooth can be capped – see our section on crowns for a description on crowns.  Once the crown is placed – your tooth will be protected and restored to its full function.  Sometimes, your tooth may lack the strength to support a crown, either the tooth has too many cavities and is too decayed or the tooth has been broken off completely.   The dentist or specialist will then place a post inside the root space of the tooth root in order for the crown to have a structure to be bonded too.   The post is a metal rod and it protrudes a few millimetres and is used to hold the core or filling.  The core is the part that gets covered by the crown.

Although this procedure may not be permanent – in some cases root canal has to be repeated a few years later… or some times the tooth can not be saved and then other procedures will need to be considered, saving the natural tooth can have many advantages, to name a few:

  • Restores chewing ability – you can continue easting those foods you love.
  • Restored biting force and sensation
  • Improves your tooths esthetic appearance – Maintains your natural smile
  • Protects your other teeth from excessive wear or strain
  • Preventative measure – may save you from undergoing more intensive or costly procedures such as crowning or implants, which also create the need for ongoing dental check ups and work

Root canal treated teeth can last just as long as the other healthy natural teeth in your mouth, and possibly a life time, if treated with proper care.

Looking for a dentist?

Cape Town – CBD – Dr Videtzky * Tamboerskloof – Dr Van Der Walt * Seapoint – Dr Geffen * Durbanville – Dr De Wet * Newlands – Dr Tim Bugler* Rondebosch – Dr Oosthuizen * Rondebosch East – Dr Van Rensburg at Kromboom Dental Centre (Dentists and Oral Hygienists) Or email

We do not deal directly with the public – please contact a recommended dentist in your area